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Town planners needed, says report

THERE is a critical shortage of town planners in cities including Perth, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, according to a new national report.

Released today at the Planning Institute of Australia's (PIA's) conference in Hobart, the six-month inquiry into planning education and employment found many were leaving the profession because of workplace stress.
Inquiry chair Sue Holliday said the shortage had reached critical levels in cities and nearby "seachange communities" where development pressures were highest.

The worst-affected areas were Perth, Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney, together with their surrounds.

read more (courtesy news.com.au)

Career/Education 26th February, 2004 08:27:25   [#] [1 comment] 

Town planner shortage blamed on stress: inquiry

An national inquiry has found many town and city planners are leaving the profession because of workplace stress.

The Planning Institute of Australia's annual conference in Hobart has been told nationally there about 700 vacancies for planners.

Delegates have been told there is a critical shortage of planners in cities and regions where development pressures are highest.

Inquiry chairwoman Sue Holliday says what is becoming increasingly obvious is the stress involved in local government, which employs nearly half of the nation's planners.

"The inquiry has put on the table for the first time something many of us have heard about but really haven't been talking about and that is the working environment in local government for many planners is quite difficult.

"You're caught between three pressures the community, the developers and the councillors so it's quite a difficult working environment," she said.

(courtesy ABC Tasmania)

Career/Education 26th February, 2004 08:22:10   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: XVII, Feb 2004
Citizen #381277

Well, while this picture isn't exactly Melbourne, it is looking towards Melbourne. Actually, I got up on my roof when I went home one weekend to Bunyip because the sky was so lovely and deep.

Who knows, in 15 years time, the trees may be replaced by that horrible red roof tile sea that engulfs Melbourne's outer suburbs. Of course, we all know the UGB has been set to end around 3kms east of Pakenham station (a good 20 kms from Bunyip), but as we have seen, the UGB can be ammened if there is enough pressure from certain interest groups.

I still say that 10 bucks is mine though, Russ!

Melbourne 23rd February, 2004 19:17:47   [#] [2 comments] 

The Art of Travel - Alain de Botton
Russell Degnan

Ostensibly, The Art of Travel is a book about why people travel: to escape their rut, or the city, for the exotic, the sublime, or the merely mundane, curiosity or just because everyone else has. In doing so, de Botton introduces us to the lives of history's more interesting and sometimes eccentric travellers, discussing their motives, their advice, and how to apply it to your own journeys.

But beyond that it is also something much more.

de Botton examines the relationship of our intellect to the world around us. When travelling, we often let our mind race ahead of where we are. We don't see the scene, or feel the experience available to us, but instead, that given to us by a guidebook, or a travel brochure, a friend, or in some piece of art. While discussing a short trip to Madrid de Botton summed this problem up:

A danger of travel is that we see things a the wrong time, before we have had a chance to build up the necessary receptivity and when new information is therefore as useless and fugitive as necklace beads without a connecting chain.

The difference, between the average traveller, and the great travellers - the writers, poets and artists who subsequently shape our experiences on our own travels - is the intellectual connection they take to the places they travelled. Flaubert to the exoticism of Egypt, Humboldt to the scientific curiosities of South America, Wordsworth to English country life, or van Gogh to the colours of Provence.

This is the advantage of travel. It allows you to expand your mind and escape the mundanity of everyday existence. As de Botton says:

Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than a moving plane, ship or train. There is an almost quaint correlation between what is in front of our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts requiring large views, new thoughts new places. Introspective reflections which are liable to stall are helped along by the flow of the landscape.

The intellectual connection that we can find travelling is not exclusive to travel though. In the last chapter, de Botton challenges us to be more receptive to our natural surroundings, to have the travelling mindset.

We approach new places with humility. We carry with us no rigid ideas about what is interesting. We irritate locals because we stand on traffic islands and in narrow streets and admire what they take to be small details. We risk getting run over because we are intrigued by the roof of a government building or an inscription on a wall. We find a supermarket or a hairdressers's unusually fascinating. We dwell at length on the layout of a menu or the clothes of the presenters on the evening news. We are alive to the layers of history beneath the present and take notes and photographs.

The last point - on photography - is interesting. It is amazing how receptive you can be to your surrounds when you have a camera with you always; where each and every laneway, street, or play of light across a building is a potential picture.

But this also tells us something as planners, that the cities we live in must be designed to be appreciated by the traveller. Not pandering to them, with excessive signage, and a few landmarks surrounded by acres of bus parking; but the streets, parks, and public transport should be a pleasant, interesting, dynamic experience. To engage the intellect of the citizens who live there, as well as those who visit.

Book Club 22nd February, 2004 17:32:04   [#] [1 comment] 

Melbourne Bits and Pieces
Russell Degnan

Melbourne historian Graeme Davison has written a new book, Car Wars: how the car won our hearts and conquered our cities. This Age article has more details. It describes the way the city shaped the new suburbs of Melbourne from the 1950s. A period in which Melbourne also grew very rapidly. The article is well worth a read.

Too late for the quiz questions. A free pamphlet on Melbourne's Streets and Lanes has been published by the Royal Historical Society of Victoria. It is available from their offices in A'Beckett St. (opposite Flagstaff Gardens) and from the Tourist Information Office (in Federation Square).

If you haven't already seen it. The State Library of Victoria is now back in full working order. There is currently an exhibition by Michael Leunig with models and drawings from the animated series he did two years ago. But, the permanent collection is also worth seeing. As well as the awe-inspiring dome, there is a great collection of paintings of Melbourne from the late 19th century and busts of many prominent Victorians in the redone Cowen Galery.

Something interesting is happening with Melbourne's heritage theatres - mostly owned and operated by Marriner Theatres. The City Weekly, Melbourne Times and the Independent Arts Review have all published stories on either the theatres themselves, or the battle for shows taking place between themselves and the government subsidised Arts Centre. Additionally concerning for them is the plan to build new venues for the Melbourne Theatre Company and for concerts. The heritage theatres claiming that it could potentially drive them to the wall.

The short story here is the Melbourne, as a legacy of the pre-war years has a surplus of theatre seats, and a shortage of patrons willing to pay the prices they need to keep them viable. By funding additional seats (and not the patrons) the government is further misallocating the available money in the arts sector. Given the trouble many people went to to get the heritage theatres operating again, it is unlikely that they will be left to rot as they were in the past. But, one might need to go to the wall before the mess of subsidised arts funding is addressed.

General 21st February, 2004 11:06:25   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: XVI, Feb 2004
Russell Degnan

Yeah, late again. For whatever reason the skies have been exceptionally clear this summer. The Shrine, where this was taken is a great place to see just how clear. January 28th, 2004

Melbourne 18th February, 2004 16:02:12   [#] [1 comment] 

Monday Melbourne: XV, Feb 2004
Russell Degnan

Melbourne's parks and gardens are at their best for the next few months of the year. This is a tree in the Botanic Gardens, taken January 3rd, 2004

Melbourne 10th February, 2004 00:19:53   [#] [0 comments] 

A Long Look at Federation Square
Russell Degnan

Amongst the many interesting things said in the lecture on Tuesday, one was that he though Federation Square would be a good urban space, in time. The square has been criticised, by a lot of people, a lot of times, since it was conceived and built. But I've wanted to hold off until it was finished. To give it the benefit of the doubt. Now that it is - finally - it is about time I said my peace. Because Gehl's exhortations on what makes a good square is still fresh in my mind, I'll also assess it on some of those too.

The Architecture

It could only be a gross attempt on my part to pass judgement on the architecture of this building given my limited knowledge on the subject; but I will attend a few points.

First the good. I like the atrium (right), especially at night when the changing multi-coloured coloured lights reflect across the roof and grey stone pathways. The inside of the gallery is brilliant; the spaces remind me of a level from Doom, or Quake, alternatively light and dark, with interesting lines of sight across and through the various spaces. The theatres in ACMI are also as good as any I've been in.

I've heard it said that the patterns on the building itself are ugly, but I disagree. It is probably the mathematician in me, but I like the varied complexity of the patterned shape approach to tiling, such as here, or in Storey Hall. It allows the designer to do interesting things with modern materials, without getting the plain, dull surface that materials without natural textures have.

Which leads to the bad. The surfaces without patterning are about as interesting as corrugated iron. Unfortunately, those surfaces are also the ill-fated shards at the front. The purpose of these was to provide something striking at the front of the square which would also frame St. Paul's and contrast with the city. It was a good idea, but for a few reasons it hasn't work. One, because of government interference, and public anxiety about blocking the view of the cathedral the front shard was shortened. Two, although the shard closest to the square is ok, the one nearer the river is too wide, too short, and not sharp enough. It photographs terribly, being dull and either black or metallic grey; blocks the view of the square from the southern entrance; and more than anything. just doesn't fit with the remainder of the building.

The second complaint I have is the way it interfaces with the surrounds. It is a long, mostly dull walk up Flinders St. to the atrium. There are just a few shadowed entrances to ACMI, and a largely dull, monotonous, grey hammering at you with no relief from the elements, or the traffic. Nor is there any greenery. On the other side, there is an almost criminal neglect of the river. Just two half-hearted back-entrances, and a few seats on a balcony or two allow you to experience the water. It is a self-centred structure that way. It could have been placed anywhere in Melbourne and not been markedly changed. This may be true of most buildings in Melbourne, but compare it to the Flinders St. station opposite, with the tower facing down the length of Elizabeth St. and the main entrance leading out onto the city's busiest intersection.

The Public Space

There were 12 points that Gehl described as important for a public space to operate at its best. Divided into 3 subsections: Protection, Comfort, and Enjoyment. Some are more important than others, some are more subtle than others. Two key points that are both, Federation Square does well.

The first of those is the Edge effect. Psychologically, people don't like sitting or standing exposed to the eyes of others. Good public spaces therefore, have lots of alcoves, and pillars for people to stand in and around, and place the seats, and other assorted objects that people sit on at the edge of the space - or, have effective edges, with steps, or sloped areas to sit on. Because of the undulating terrain, and the line of cafes along its edge, Federation Square has good edges. Given the right day, there are lots of places to watch the world go by.

The second, on which Fed. Square does equally well, is Talkscapes. The ability to talk quietly is not undervalued by people even if it often is by the designers of urban spaces. By isolating the square from Swanston and Flinders Streets the designers have gained a relatively quiet area that you can relax and have conversations in. The true test of how easy it is to talk is probably to make a call on a mobile phone - in which I've never had any trouble. Except at New Year when the annual collapse of the telecommunications infrastructure occurs after midnight.

Having covered three of the good qualities of squares:

5. Possibilities for STANDING/STAYING.
6. Possibilities for SITTING.
8. Possibilities for HEARING/TALKING.

I'll mention the others that Fed Square does well:

1. Protection against Traffic and Accidents.
2. Protection against crime and violence.
7. Possibilities to SEE.
10. Scale.

Most of these are self-explanatory. There is no traffic, good views of the city and the people coming and going through the square - though not the river - and the buildings are designed for people, not cars. One point should be made however. Fed. Square isn't a streetscape, nor is it integrated into the urban fabric. Because of the gallery, the cafes and restaurants, it will always be busy, and therefore relatively safe, but its isolation from the streets - while a benefit from a traffic viewpoint - means that few people travel through it each day, and few return often. It is therefore, an unowned space, with a diverse, but fluid and variable collection of users. Sometimes, a public space can become derelict from that situation, as it gets older, dirtier and less popular; unlikely, but if the gallery was to wane in popularity, and the businesses to close, then it would be a problem, and the relevant authorities would need to see the signs beforehand.

On then, to the bad things. Three of these can be blamed, almost entirely on three things. One, the cobblestones, two, the lack of plant- life, and three, the orientation of the square. They are:

2. Protection against unpleasant sense experiences.
7. Possibilities for WALKING.
11. Possibilities for enjoying positive aspects of climate.
12. Aesthetic quality / positive sense experience.

Despite our complaints, compared to almost any place you'd care to mention, Melbourne has an excellent climate. It is mild all year round, lots of daylight, with no snow, and few cold extremes. However, perhaps because we've grown so soft, the cold southerly winds running off the bay, and the intense summer sun can be bitter when they arrive. Which makes the three things previously mentioned a problem.

The orientation of the square leaves a gap facing down the river, to the bay, so when the cold win arrives, it blows up the square. A better gap would have run from the north-west to south-east, rather than the south- west. The lack of plant-life is self-explanatory, it is a hot, shadeless area, with no protection from the rain or wind. The picture from Cup Day last year bears this out. Notice that while a number of hardy souls sit on the square near the screen, the majority have taken refuge under the shade, or, as I did, on one of the few patches of grass.

The cobblestones though, were badly thought out for two reasons. One, obviously, is the heat. They reflect it, when they should absorb it, turning the square into a furnace. The second I didn't notice myself, but, one of the benefits of spending time at the gallery is that you can eavesdrop on the conversations of our older, and more forthright citizens. On several occasions, I have heard them mention to one another that the cobblestones are hard to walk on, and potentially dangerous, and that they choose to walk elsewhere (ie. up Flinders St.). The square isn't a place I'd choose to walk through, even if there was a place to walk to that involves going through the square. This is a pity though, because otherwise, it is a pleasant place to be, and, if nothing else, it means it is easily fixed.

The final point, relates again to the self-centred, unowned aspects of the square:

9. Possibilities for PLAY/ UNFOLDING / ACTIVITIES.

Without question, there is a lot of entertainment at the square, but it is all organised. Because the square is a destination, and not a place to rest or travel through while doing other activities, the possibilities for unplanned activities - impromptu games of football, or hacky-sack, chance meetings, or sitting to watch a busker (though where they are I don't know) - don't really seem to occur.

That's my impression though. There is a lot of good, a lot of valiant attempts to do good that need some tuning, and a few things we'll have to live with.

Urban Design 8th February, 2004 21:25:46   [#] [2 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: XIV, Feb 2004
Russell Degnan

Spare a thought for this week's tourists. Nothing but rain for their whole visit, and only this postcard shot to show for it. Taken 3rd January, 2004

Melbourne 3rd February, 2004 22:57:34   [#] [0 comments] 

Places for People
Russell Degnan

Danish urban designer, Jan Gehl, author of the report Place for People, 10 years ago is back in Melbourne. Apparently, he sees a remarkable improvement in the quality of life in the city. The Age article lacked any sort of detail, but there is a free public lecture on:

Tuesday, 3 February, 6pm
Lecture Theatre, Storey Hall, RMIT

As a primer, there was an interview with Jan Gehl talking about pedestrian cities, in Metropolis Magazine in 2002.

Urban Design 1st February, 2004 13:51:52   [#] [8 comments] 


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